Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
 
Serious gameplay vs. serious looks

I played every Final Fantasy game from FFVII on. If you look just at the single-player role-playing games of the series (and thus ignore the MMORPGs and tactics and whatever spinoffs), you'll notice that on gameplay they are variations around the same design. But on graphics style there are huge differences between the different Final Fantasy games, from more comic book and colorful to more realistic and dark. Thus in my experience there isn't much of a correlation between looks and gameplay.

But apparently that isn't the perception of everybody. Many people believe that a more serious, closer to photo-realistic, and darker look correlates with more serious gameplay, while candy colored funny furry animals are for casual games. As a result they tend to have problems wrapping their head around Wildstar, which is extremely colorful and not serious at all in style, but very serious in gameplay. You hear a lot of comments from hardcore players who like the idea of Wildstar gameplay, but are turned off by the graphics style. Would Wildstar have an easier time marketing itself to the hardcore audience if it looked more like let's say The Elder Scrolls Online?

Surprisingly when I thought about factors of correlation between looks and gameplay, it appeared to me that if I wanted to make a very serious game, I would go for a comic look, like Carbine did. For me better gameplay correlates strongly with a better user interface. And highly visible user interface elements fit better into a comic world than into a photo-realistic one. You only need to play five minutes of TESO combat versus five minutes of Wildstar combat to know what I mean: The core mechanics of combat are very similar, but in Wildstar you always know exactly what is going on, while in TESO the feedback you get is far from optimal. If you added telegraphs and floating damage numbers to TESO, it wouldn't look good, but that is exactly what you need to do to get combat right.

I believe that Carbine did the right choice when choosing the looks of Wildstar. It is a lot easier to make a game with serious gameplay with the graphics style they have.

Comments:
Games that are not focused on realistic looks can can give visual clues to their game-play features without hurting, possibly even enhancing, immersion.
Games going for a more realistic look have fewer visual clues available so their are less elements supporting game-play.

It all depends on what information you need to give the player as to whether your game is able to support highly realistic visuals.
 
The other point is that cartoon graphics are less strain on the computer. One partial but not insignificant reason for WoW's success was that it could run on your laptop.
 
"For me better gameplay correlates strongly with a better user interface."

Sure, although this is somewhat circular and vague.

But here: "If you added telegraphs and floating damage numbers to TESO, it wouldn't look good, but that is exactly what you need to do to get combat right."

Here you seem to have implicitly defined "better user interface" as "user interface which gives more information". This seems to be an unsupported logical leap, some information is hidden not just for interface reasons but for gameplay design reasons. Poker wouldn't be poker if you could see all the cards in your opponent's hand and on top of the deck.

Should damage done be something like a card in poker? Well, why not? If you stick someone with a knife IRL, you don't know whether you hit a vital organ or not from the giant number that pops up above their head, you have to observe their reaction, right? Hypothetically speaking, of course. A knife-fighting game which attempts to model damage done to your opponent realistically, with blood loss and whether nerves/tendons are cut or not, seems much much much more serious than a game which models damage done by assigning players a 'health pool'.

I'm not disagreeing with you entirely, your point seems valid enough when it comes to all the WoW-clones out there; but your argument seems overly broad. Nothing in your argument, for example, seems to restrict it from being used for combat flight simulators, but floating damage-done numbers in a realistic flight simulator seems like a horrible idea to me--and I don't understand why that wouldn't qualify as serious gameplay, just like the knife fighting game, that seems more serious than a wow-clone.
 
If you stick someone with a knife IRL, you don't know whether you hit a vital organ or not from the giant number that pops up above their head,

As long as the factor defining life and death is the "number of hit points", then providing the exact amount you inflicted is critical.
The equivalent of hiding damage numbers for a "realistic" fight would be that you stab with a knife, but you don't even SEE where the hit has landed.

For poker you're also mixing the game with the interface. In poker you get the maximum information you're supposed to get, the one you don't have is because the game rules define that you must not have that. If you create a game where the objective is to guess how long the mob will live, then having a game rule that you don't see the numbers would be perfectly fine. But MMOs are not about that.
 
If you stick someone with a knife IRL, you don't know whether you hit a vital organ or not from the giant number that pops up above their head, you have to observe their reaction, right?

It is not just, as Helistar remarked, the fact that most fighting games use the unrealistic approach of you being perfectly able to do everything up to having lost 99% of your health, and then suddenly become unable to do anything on losing the last 1%. But also there are technical and financial limitations that prevent a monster in a game like TESO having an animation in response to being hit which gives a clear enough information on what effect my attack had.

Even in your combat flight simulator game, you would need SOME feedback element that shows you that you have hit the enemy's engine. I didn't say you need floating numbers for every game, I said you need a better user interface, and a column of smoke would do the job in this case. The floating number remark was specific for TESO, because I don't believe there is a practical alternative.
 
The Secret World went for dark photorealistic style, and the telegraphs do not spoil it.
 
I've been a professional computer programmer for several years so I can speak a bit to building a UI. (I do not work for Carbine or on games. I do business programming but the fundamentals of good UI apply across the board.)

One of the absolute fundamentals of a good UI is feedback.

Your interface should at all times speak to your user, when his/her actions are both right and wrong or misunderstood. We want to always inform our users of actions, changes in state and errors, or exceptions that occur.

Visual cues or simple messaging can show the user whether his or her actions have led to the expected result.
 
ESO has telegraphs, and IMO they don't take anything away from the game.

The "Foundry Tactical Combat" add-on (which just about everyone has) shows hp text amounts, percentages, and scrolling numbers like we've come to expect in any MMO. I'm still flabbergasted that ZOS had that info API enabled so it can be in an add-on, but doesn't have it in by default. I'm in complete agreement that this is a very dumb design decision. They can say "it's to enhance immersion" all they want, it's still dumb.

I did a bit of WS in the open beta, and I quite liked the combat, but "everything else" just didn't "have it" for me. I can't say why... I just didn't get hooked.
 
Probably the most serious mmo I've played is The Secret World, and that had very realistic graphics. Probably the lightest, most carefree mmo I've played is Guild Wars 2, and that also has much more realistic graphics than WoW or Wildstar, even if not as much so as TSW.

I'd actually argue that Wildstar isn't that serious. It's somewhat comical and juvenile, and so matches the looks. They don't give you quests to go pick up poop, but it's very hard for me to take seriously a game where when you level up an announcer comes on and yells 'Oh S--T YEAH!'. o.O

The dialogue is way too tongue in cheek, between Artemis Zin's personality cult, Mondo Zax, and the rest. "Until Mondo invents time machine, DO NOT WASTE TIME!". Contrast that with an MMO that plays it straight, like Rift. "Find your greatness. Live heroically, die gloriously!"

Or even better, something like TSW.
"You ever do that? Keep going when it serves absolutely no purpose? When it's already clear you're not making any kind of difference? A reasonable man might say 'This isn't working, I gotta change things up.' He would do things differently, look for a way to break the cycle. Find a way to give those things closure, instead of being stuck in this endless grind. But I write for a living. I make millions repeating myself. What's your excuse?"

Damn that was a fun game. XD Haven't encountered anything at all similar in Wildstar.
 
Without disagreeing with what you said, I think Wildstar would have higher sales if it looked "like TESO" or at least more photo-realistic/dark. The people so insecure or compensating to want to play a hard epeen game are going to be turned off buying something that could be considered fun or juvenile. If your marketing pitch is "not 2014 WoW", then having different graphics would be another way to show those special snowflakes that your game is different.

The art of movie posters and previews is a way to send cues to your audience about your product. IMO, the style of Wildstar, which I like, is a detriment to attracting their target, hard-core niche.
 
What I'd like to know is why all these cues and telegraphs have to be visual. For me, audio tells would be both easier to follow and more immersive.
 
Why does it need to be photo-realistic and darker? The two things are not mutually exclusive. My issue with Wildstar isn't the "Comic" look, it's the fluffy bunnies. You can absolutely have a very dark comic look -- Fist of the North Star, Ghost in the Machine, Spawn, and even Batman are all stylistically very dark and gritty.

Whereas, stylistically, the main mascot of Wildstar shares more in common with Hello Kitty than Batman and that's the major mistake.
 
There are interviews talking about why Team Fortress 2 ended up with the cartoony look it has now. Initially, they were going for a realistic style, but it just didn't make for good gameplay.

Another example - Planetary Annihilation has also chosen a deliberately abstract/cartoony style to increase recognition of units, which improves gameplay/UI.
 
@Michael, it can be said about Wildstar but there are eastern (Japanese, Korean and probably also Chinese, although it seems to me if Chinese want to go for cute looks, they go all the way in and then the same a thousand times more) games that are both cute and serious. (Not saying the majority of cute-looking stuff is not for children there, it probably is, but it's "only" the majority.)
 
@Helistar:

"As long as the factor defining life and death is the "number of hit points", then providing the exact amount you inflicted is critical."

I don't agree, although I did say that with the game mechanics of WoW clones that seems to work best. I could design a game with a hit point pool that's designed for some 'fog of war' over your opponent's hit point pool, however. Why do you think that's impossible to do well? Obviously you're not replacing the numbers with nothing, we're talking about replacing it with visual or behavioral cues. Crouching over in pain, blood, moving slower, etc. The most important thing would be to remove healing from the game, healing doesn't work well with hidden health pools, and if we're going for a dark, realistic game, instant healing wouldn't be realistic or dark. This is a massive, massive change to the holy trinity that wow-clones use. However, your comment isn't limited to wow-clones, but merely to any game using a health pool, so I can't agree with your comment, and I feel that you are possibly assuming many elements of the holy trinity in your opinion that are not actually specified in your actual comment.

"The equivalent of hiding damage numbers for a "realistic" fight would be that you stab with a knife, but you don't even SEE where the hit has landed."

Well, that seems perfectly possible, if they are wearing dark clothes(that doesn't show the blood as well) and your view of the actual strike is blocked by someone's body part, in some kind of grappling situation, say, you indeed wouldn't see where the hit landed. I don't think that's a good analogy; or it is, but it supports my view, not yours.

"For poker you're also mixing the game with the interface."

Yes, I know; did you miss where I mentioned that mixing explicitly? I'm mixing the game with the interface because what we are talking about affects both; I'm not doing it because I can't tell the difference between them. The original post I was responding to also mixed the interface and the game design, so mixing them in the poker example created a more exact analogy and was done intentionally :)

" If you create a game where the objective is to guess how long the mob will live, then having a game rule that you don't see the numbers would be perfectly fine. But MMOs are not about that."

This is a strawman example, a game with some 'fog of war' over opponent health conditions wouldn't be created with the objective of designing a "guessing game", but to add realism and complexity to combat. Also, Tobold never said in his initial post here that he believed his comments only applied to MMOs; if that was his intent, he should qualify his remarks thusly.
 
@Tobold:
"It is not just, as Helistar remarked, the fact that most fighting games use the unrealistic approach of you being perfectly able to do everything up to having lost 99% of your health, and then suddenly become unable to do anything on losing the last 1%"

I don't think he actually said that, although it's an obviously true point and so we can agree he implied it.

"But also there are technical and financial limitations that prevent a monster in a game like TESO having an animation in response to being hit which gives a clear enough information on what effect my attack had."

I don't agree; not because we disagree on the capabilities of current animations, but because we disagree on the ability of the game designers to make changes to the game to bring the 'required clarity' of said information downwards. (as above, the main factor in making accurate knowledge of health pools necessary to gameplay is the fact that healing exists in its currently unrealistically strong form). Well, since this particular comment qualifies itself with "in a game like TESO", I suppose we do agree, as removing healing would make it a much different game; but I don't agree in re: all the other statements that have been made here minus that qualifier, which is most of them.

"Even in your combat flight simulator game, you would need SOME feedback element that shows you that you have hit the enemy's engine. I didn't say you need floating numbers for every game, I said you need a better user interface, and a column of smoke would do the job in this case."

Yes, exactly, but that's a poor example. The analogy to nailing an engine, in a knife-fighting game, would be your opponent dying: the visual feedback in that case is also clear: he falls down and stops moving. We're concerned here with middle cases, not the simple end cases. Such as, what if you hit your enemies' left gun, your visual feedback element is? The left gun would stop firing, but that would be an extremely minimal visual clue. In the same way, if you hit your opponent's heart you'd get massive immediate feedback, and if you open up a vein you'd get much less immediate feedback, but when they'd lost more blood out of it two minutes later, you'd have more. Currently if you open up a bleed effect on your opponent in a WoW-clone game, you get an icon on your opponent that says "this is a bleed effect, doing x-damage per second". This is unrealistically informative. This is analogous to, say, a hydraulic system leak in the flight simulator. There's no visual feedback there, other than noticing the other aircraft is gradually moving with less control.

Just to be clear, again, if we're assuming an MMORPG using the holy trinity, I totally agree with your statements here, none of my counterexamples include anything like the holy trinity.
 
"The analogy to nailing an engine, in a knife-fighting game, would be your opponent dying"

p.s. That's only true in a single engined plane, with multiple engines it'd be more like a broken knee, etc. The main point is unchanged however, some damage is realistically and immediately visible, some isn't.
 
Guns of Icarus Online is a MOBA style game where you and your teammates man one of more combat blimps against an equally sized team of opponents.

There are no damage numbers. There is visual feedback when you hit various systems. Take out their balloon and it visually deflates and their blimp starts sinking like a rock. Take out a gun and you can see smoke from the gun mount, and it stops shooting.

Repairing is a thing, so just because you destroyed their balloon doesn't mean they're dead. Same with an engine. They'll stop gaining forward momentum, but they can get it back.

One of the ways to get good at that game is to memorize the layouts of the different blimps so you know where to shoot in order to take out the systems you want to take out. (And so you know where they have firing arcs and with how many weapons... Some ships have all their guns in the front, your pilot needs to keep from flying directly in front of such a ship!)
 
Wildstar is probably way more hardcore than Mabinogi, but even in that game with the cutesy graphics the combat works with numbers popping up AND being able to (sometimes) see the think bubble above NPC opponent heads so you know what skill it is trying to do.

There though it's less about getting out of the red telegraphs and more about putting up the right counter from the right position in time.

Also, damage and skill eat up stamina which means a prolonged fight does see a deterioration in effectiveness (for the player). :P

Simple graphics = less lag. Kinda important when combat is usually over pretty quick.
 
Why do you think that's impossible to do well? Obviously you're not replacing the numbers with nothing, we're talking about replacing it with visual or behavioral cues. Crouching over in pain, blood, moving slower, etc.

I think it's impossible to do well because it's never been done well. And good luck with visual clues on a 2D limited-resolution screen.

This is a strawman example, a game with some 'fog of war' over opponent health conditions wouldn't be created with the objective of designing a "guessing game", but to add realism and complexity to combat.

Since when "realism and complexity" have been part of being the mark of a good game?

Your posts are of the "generic handwaving" kind, suggesting a lot of ideas, but completely removed from how they would be actually implemented. You're welcome to try design such a combat system. Being unsatisfied with the trinity (which is a logical and inevitable consequence of the HP pool approach), I actually tried to design a combat system which does NOT use HPs. You should try as well, to get an idea of how hard it is. In my case I never managed beyond the stage where the combat was either completely trivial or unplayably complex.
 
I don't honestly think there's a correlation between cartoon vs. realism in graphics and complexity vs. casual/simplicity in design. Now, if you're going for an immersive experience you do want to mitigate the extraneous information popping up on screen.....but we've had games with realistic graphics and loads of information on-screen for years now, just as we've had highly cartoonish graphics in games widely regarded as extremely difficult to master (the old "Nintendo Hard" concept, for example).

There might be an expectation, however, that the less serious a game presents itself, the less likely it is to also take its gameplay seriously. That would be a new phenomenon, I suspect; old school gamers don't tend to assume that cartoony = easy in my book. I could be wrong.

Personally, I've already quit Wildstar and it has entirely to do with the fact that I couldn't properly get into the goofy plot and look, and no longer can abide the WoW-like interface and questing. I remain with TESO and also recently got back into TSW, which I realize over time was a game I should not have neglected as much as I have. I'm tired of shoddy story telling in MMOs...TESO and TSW are closer to what I actually want. And given the very limited free time I have to game these days, I'll take an immersive, graphically realistic game with a good story and what seems to be great gameplay (to me) over a cartoony gonzo game with (apparently) great gameplay. Except the only stuff I ever hear about Wildstar is that the instances are tough as nails and unforgiving, and that's exactly the sort of game my limited time can't afford to be involved with.
 
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